Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Is Anthony Falzarano’s effort to help gays go straight sexual healing or a way to deny reality?
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
Two dozen troubled souls—a small hodgepodge of races and genders—settle into couches and chairs on a red-and-blue floral carpet on the top floor of an old brownstone for their regular Tuesday evening meeting. Stories are told, gentle advice is proffered, and, of course, everybody is thanked for sharing.
You could easily be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous here in this row house at 12th and L Streets NW, until you spot one of several identical posters adorning the walls. “Can homosexuals change?” ask dozens of smiling faces. “We did.”
As the meeting opens, the assembled members of the Parents and Friends Ministries stand to praise the Lord for delivering them, their friends, or their family members from the grips of the gay lifestyle. Nobody looks much past 50, except for two senior citizens who have come to pray for their son. Otherwise, it’s a heterogeneous group of homosexuals—gays, ex-gays, and others somewhere on the path to “recovery” from what they believe is the “psychological neurosis” of homosexuality. The ex-gays in the room all have stories about how attraction to the same sex was ruining their lives.
A 35-year-old fundamentalist Christian—a virgin from Alabama—cannot escape his recurring dreams of sex with an older man. He lacerates himself with guilt as he lays bare his desires.
There’s a portly ex-gay political consultant from Sacramento, Calif. It’s his first time at this particular meeting, but he’s a veteran of the so-called Exodus movement on the West Coast.
An older ex-lesbian—a white woman who speaks in a lovely, lilting Southern drawl—talks about her fears that her HIV-positive son will develop full-blown AIDS.
Across from her on a couch is a middle-aged queen who allows that he’s had 600 partners. He’s a lively, funny addition to the mix. You get the feeling as he boasts/confesses about his conquests that he’s just one chance encounter away from relapse.
Across the way is an expressionless black woman, strikingly beautiful, with brown hair that falls down to her shoulders. She says little, mostly listens, in the hope of coping with her impending marriage to an ex-gay man.
The group leans in as an ex-gay describes his life as a prostitute throughout the ’80s. “Back then,” he says, “I’d have told you I was born that way.” But after working his program for two solid years, he says, he is “living proof that Christ can set you free.”
The stories traded at this week’s Ministries meeting are typical of the stories of thousands who say they felt trapped in their homosexuality until they found healing and deliverance through faith in Jesus Christ. Adherents claim that faith-based ministries have turned the hearts of 20,000 gay men and lesbians over the past 25 years. Through “reparative therapy” and biblical teaching, the converts say they’ve developed a healthy desire for the opposite sex. While some stick to the program forever, others drift in and out, and still others merely set aside their homosexual behavior for a time, then return to “the lifestyle”— gay, but no longer feeling guilty.
Anthony Falzarano, the boyish 43-year-old executive director of Parents and Friends Ministries, is at the heart of the local movement, which he commands with two full-time staffers and two volunteers from the brownstone on 12th Street. Falzarano is a piece of work, an ex-gay dynamo wound up with the evangelical certitude that he has been ordained by God to “break the hold that Satan has on homosexuals. I believe that God put me on my homosexual voyage so that I might minister to other gay people.” Falzarano flatly asserts, “I believe God chose me to let them know that they don’t have to suffer this way.”
In many ways, he seems born for the job. Falzarano’s whole life is a parable of recovery—his many sexual partners, his years swimming in the debauchery of the bathhouses, and his graduation to a 16-year marriage, two kids, the inevitable dog and home out in the Virginia ‘burbs.
Whereas the gay lifestyle has become synonymous in many circles with self-expression and freedom, Falzarano sees it as a prison, a place from which people are yearning to escape.
“Just remember where you were one year ago,” he reminds the meeting attendees. “And don’t forget where you are today.”
Falzarano asks that a prayer be said “for all gay people, especially all those who could not be here tonight.” Looking around the room, he asks God to “bring more gay people down from Dupont Circle and beyond.”
After the stories run their course, he distributes lyric sheets and punches up some Christian-rock treacle on the stereo. As the group breaks into song, he lifts his arms skyward like divining rods and sways back and forth on his feet. When the singing ends, he gets down to business.
“How many of you are having pornography problems? Raise up your hands.”
Most hands in the room rise.
“Chronic masturbation?” he presses on.
Several hands drop.
“Any slips this week?” he asks, Falzarano’s idea of “slips” being full-blown out-of-wedlock sex, straight or otherwise. In the ex-gay lay minister’s paradigm, God may have given us erogenous zones to enjoy, but only appropriately—within the
hermetic confines of a union, a straight one blessed by God.
And if that missionary view of sexuality doesn’t float your boat—if you can’t get it up for anybody but people of your own gender—then you are out of luck. Abstinence is your only option. It’s a pretty tough assignment, this being pious, chaste, and, no matter what your inclinations, straight.
One nonpracticing gay man raises his hand to acknowledge that, yes, he has slipped this week, and, ah, slipped again, madly beating off. Falzarano asks the man if he thinks of men or women while doing his thing.
“Men,” the man says sheepishly.
“That’s OK,” Falzarano comforts him. “This program is hard work. You can’t expect it to work overnight.”
He then turns to the new guy in the room—a dashing, dark-haired man in his mid-20s who has encountered a bump on his road to the straight and narrow.
“It’s my boyfriend,” he says. “I didn’t want to tell him I was coming here. He threatened to kill my cat and my dog if I left.”
“He’s still in a codependent relationship, so let’s pray for him,” Falzarano suggests. “I had a boyfriend who wouldn’t let up. That kind of fatal attraction is so out there. This guy is the king of manipulation. This is psychotic behavior. This goes beyond neurotic behavior.”
Having addressed the issue of spiritual health, Falzarano turns his attention to more earthly matters, the man’s HIV status in particular.
“Have you been tested?”
“OK, we’ll have to take care of that.”
Although the gay-exit movement has risen in stature—and in the process has become the target of people who believe that praying your way to a new sexual identity is ridiculous—Falzarano likes to remind his flock that redemption has been around for a long, long time. Almost as long as the “sin.”
“‘Be not deceived,’” he declares, quoting
I Corinthians 6:9. “‘Fornicators, idolaters, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of those will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God.’”
He tells them this, he says, so they will understand that they are not the first. “See,” he says, “there were ex-gays in the early church.”
After the meeting, Falzarano says goodbye to the assembled and sits down to explain his maniacal involvement in an issue most Christian people would just as soon not have come up at the dinner table. He says that he founded his ministry 11 years ago after God literally spoke to him and led him to the promised land of heterosexuality. “If I saw a good-looking guy 16 or 17 years ago, it would have ruined my day. Sort of like taking a drink. I would begin to get drunk and then want to go cruise and then go sleep with somebody. I don’t need to do that anymore.
“I used to look at pornography. I had an addiction to masturbation. That’s all gone, you know—11, 12 years clean from that. Do I notice that a guy is good-looking now? Yeah. Most heterosexual guys can tell if a guy’s good-looking. Do I want to sleep with them anymore? Do I get a hard-on thinking about them? Do I want to masturbate thinking about good-looking guys anymore? No.”
It’s a little more information than you need, but Falzarano says you can’t pussyfoot around when you are dealing with the demons of homosexuality. As in a lot of recovery movements, participants spend a fair amount of time talking about just how bad it got, and Falzarano knows his way around a war story, that’s for sure. He says he once cavorted in a New York dungeon with 12 guys in a single night—a personal best. That same night he noticed other piles of rascals defecating on each other and fist-fucking up to their elbows. He says they had “a king-sized can of Crisco, and they were using both fists. I remember thinking, What have I gotten myself into?”
Even before he had his epiphany, Falzarano says, he had doubts about what he had become. In his worldview, gay people are made, not born. Falzarano insists that he strayed into the lifestyle as a result of having had a “weak father” who was “psychologically absent” after suffering a nervous breakdown. Never able to cope properly with his detachment from his father, he developed a neurosis known as “same-sex ambivalence,” a phrase coined by Dr. Elizabeth Moberly, the British founding mother of the ex-gay movement.
In her book, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, first published in 1983, Moberly asserts:
In the present state of the debate about homosexuality one thing that seems clear—in an issue renowned for unclarity and difference of opinion—is that two fundamentally incompatible positions continue to be held tenaciously. The one asserts that homosexual acts are legitimate, the other that they are not….It is, however, possible to argue that we have been presented with a false dichotomy. By focussing on sexual expression we have narrowed the scope both of our question and of any possible answer to our question.
Combining psychology and theology to diagnose the entire “homosexual neurosis” in just 56 pages, Moberly takes the view that “a homosexual orientation does not depend on genetic predisposition, hormonal imbalance, or abnormal learning processes, but on difficulties in the parent-child relationship, especially in the earlier years of life.”
Moberly’s approach is actually an updating of mainstream efforts to “cure” homosexuality back in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. But her theories are just that—theories based on anecdotal evidence gleaned from interviews with upper-class British gays at Cambridge University who’d spent much time in boarding schools estranged from their fathers.
On the basis of that limited database, Moberly concluded that “the homosexual condition” results from “an underlying ambivalence to members of the same sex,” a condition that Falzarano says made him easy prey for an older male family member who fondled him at 9 years old. A couple of years later, he says, he was molested in the men’s room at his family’s Roman Catholic church.
Falzarano largely credits Moberly with his conversion. When he first picked up her book, he says, “It fit my life to a T.” He believes he was straight until he first experienced oral sex with another man. He was just 15, and he met an older man shopping in downtown Newark, N.J., near his parents’ home. Later that afternoon, they ducked into a movie theater to see the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. Up in the balcony, he got his first blowjob—a good one. “Sure I enjoyed it. Let’s face it,” he says candidly, “anyone is going to enjoy oral sex.”
Still, Falzarano remains bitter about the episode. “That’s what really planted the seed. I had been a virgin. I felt dirty afterwards. But I couldn’t tell my parents. I was raised in a very strict Catholic family, and I thought they’d be angry at me. That’s what goes on in childhood.”
Falzarano kept his subsequent sexual adventures to himself until he was outed by an adolescent boyfriend who phoned Falzarano’s home in an angry rage and told his parents that he and their son were gay lovers. When his parents confronted him, Falzarano was forced to step out of the closet: “She was a Christian and my father was a Christian, and it hurt them.”
When he was 19 years old, a student at Kean College in Union, N.J., Falzarano would frequently make the hourlong drive into New York City to cruise for cohorts in Greenwich Village. A gay friend from the Village introduced him to Roy Cohn, the notorious attorney for ’50s anti-communist crusader Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Falzarano was Cohn’s boy toy of choice in the mid-’70s, partying with him in Provincetown, Mass., yachting with him out on Long Island Sound, dining with him at Tavern on the Green, and circling the velvet ropes of Studio 54 on his arm.
Falzarano still speaks highly of Cohn. “Roy was a great man. He treated me like the son he never had. But he was a sex addict,” says Falzarano. “He had an insatiable appetite for men. He’d bring in five guys a week, the hottest gay hustlers in the country,” who would join Cohn and Falzarano in their four-poster bed in Cohn’s mansion on East 68th Street.
Falzarano and Cohn were off to the races, rolling through the random orgies of the time, which, after all, was before the letters A-I-D-S stood for anything. After two years, however, Falzarano had had enough: “I wasn’t in love with Roy. I told him we were just kidding ourselves. We broke up and became friends.”
Falzarano was only 21 when he ended his romantic relationship with Cohn, and the adjustment was not easy. “I was a very spoiled homosexual, having had everything that I could possibly want” from his high-powered attorney boyfriend, but now he was jumping from bed to bed. “I started out wanting a monogamous relationship,” he says. “Instead, I became a sexual addict.”
All in all, he says, he racked up more than 400 partners. Gradually, however, it dawned on him that “the gay lifestyle was not very gay at all.”
Falzarano says that, like all four of his closest partners, in the late ’80s Cohn would die of AIDS. A full decade earlier, however, Falzarano had seen that active homosexuality “was going to be a dead end for me. I saw the life of Roy Cohn. Roy was a closeted homosexual. He had every kind of creature comfort that one would want in life, but he was a very unhappy man.”
Falzarano says that, after his relationship with Cohn ended, he pretty much slept with anything that moved, strangers in bookstores or bathhouses or parks. In 1982, in Boston, he was crossing Tremont Street on his way to a gay bookstore in the Combat Zone, the city’s red light district, when he heard a knock from above. This would be the point in the story where the gates of heaven opened and God spoke to Falzarano. And Falzarano says he listened.
“I literally had a visitation by God cleanse my life,” he says. “If I didn’t leave the lifestyle, God told me, I would die of AIDS. I was on my way to a porno book store [in Boston] to have sex, and God literally spoke to me in an audible voice and said, ‘Anthony, I’ve been patient with you long enough. If you don’t leave the gay lifestyle, now, you are going to die of AIDS.’ So it literally scared the hell out me. After 400 sexual partners, I’m HIV-negative, which is a miracle. I had four boyfriends who died of AIDS. Literally, after having 400 sexual partners, I walked out of homosexuality.”
He had another epiphany on Christmas Day in 1982: “I had a woman friend, Diane, who used to cover for me with my parents. Every year, we went to the Catholic church for Christmas Mass. But this Christmas, it was different. I suddenly got a strong feeling from God that I was going to marry this woman.”
So Diane went from being her gay man’s beard to being his wife. They were engaged on Valentine’s Day, 1983, and married in October. They moved from New York City to New Jersey to live near their families, where he would work as an architectural restorer. But the nuptials failed to cure his basic homosexual impulses: “I believed that my demons would not jump in the suitcase and follow me to New Jersey, but they did, unfortunately.”
Falzarano was constantly gazing at other men, masturbating obsessively, and (this is where the ex-gay movement gets interesting or goes flying off the rails, depending on your perspective) at night he was haunted by two gay sex demons—”Concubi and Succubi”—evil personages who, he says, crept into his dreams to tempt him away from the opposite sex. Falzarano says the gay demons sexually assaulted him mercilessly every night. “When I came out of homosexuality,” he remembers, “I’d literally wake up in the morning thinking that I’d been raped by them. That’s how real the dreams were.”
With heterosexuality eluding him and his marriage about to implode, Falzarano figured it was time to seek professional help: “We went to see a supposedly Christian marriage counselor, and after three sessions he informed us that we should not have ever been married and that we should divorce. And what’s really odd is that we hadn’t even gotten to the heavy issues with him yet, and he had already made that judgment. But we realized that God had called us to marriage. And when one marries, it is for better or for worse, and in sickness and in health, and until death do we part. And Diane and I had decided to respect the vows that we had made to God. And we felt that if God had joined us together, then there had to be some help out there.”
Falzarano was restoring period architecture in New Jersey when the market went soft in the late ’80s. In early 1988, he and Diane Falzarano moved to the District to restore a handful of old houses in Logan Circle. “Again, I was thinking that my homosexual demons would not follow me, but again they jumped in the suitcase and followed me here. My marriage again was in jeopardy. At that time, I was remaining monogamous, but clearly at that time I was a homosexual man married to a heterosexual woman.”
One day, as he was thumbing through the Washington City Paper looking for gay sex ads, his eyes fell upon a small ad for Sexaholics Anonymous. That week he attended his first meeting at St. Matthew’s Cathedral: “That was the beginning of my healing process. There was this group of men and women who were being honest about their addictions, and we began to get well together.”
At the meeting, a Christian therapist asked if he’d ever heard of Exodus International. “He said, ‘This is an organization that believes that, through the power of Jesus Christ, you can heal from your homosexual neurosis,’” Falzarano says.
The following Tuesday, Falzarano walked into his first Exodus International meeting in the suburbs of Washington. “After I left that meeting, I couldn’t believe what was happening, that there were people that were like-minded who had the same desires as me to leave the lifestyle behind. After the meeting, I got in my car, and I cried out to God and said, ‘God, is this where you are going to heal me?’ And God answered me and said, ‘Anthony, I will give you everything you need to recover in this support group, but the rest is up to you.’” Falzarano’s God was both chatty and endlessly understanding.
He worked the program assiduously, mostly dealing with the molestation of his early childhood. Within five years of abandoning his old sexual identity, Falzarano had his own ministry—Transformation Ministries for gays and lesbians also leaving the lifestyle. And, in 1995, he organized Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX) for their loved ones. Through prayer and therapy, he says, his marriage was stitched back together. “We’ve had 16 years of marriage now,” he exclaims, beaming at his wife. “God has given us a son, and God has given us a daughter.”
And God help Falzarano, and the kid, if one of them turns out to be gay.
To say that not everybody views homosexuality through Falzarano’s lens of pathology is a massive understating of much of what is going on in the broader culture. Gays, lesbians, and the people who know them are busy setting aside the stereotypes of homosexuality and getting on with the business of living. Most have little time for Falzarano and his ilk, suggesting that sexual preference is hardly a roadblock to happiness or a relationship with a higher power.
Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two of the founders of Exodus International, the nation’s largest and oldest institution for reparative therapy, founded in 1976, dropped out of the ex-gay movement when they fell in love with each other and decided to live their lives honestly and openly. “After dealing with hundreds of people,” Bussee said in a 1993 documentary, “I never met one who went from gay to straight. Even if you manage to alter someone’s sexual behavior, you cannot change their true sexual orientation.”
Even Falzarano acknowledges that of an estimated 500 to 600 homosexuals counseled by him over the last 11 years—a very motivated group—only about a third no longer consider themselves gay.
The core of the movement, its engine, is reparative therapy, an approach that weaves biblical teachings and family-of-origins counseling in an attempt to deprogram the gay person. If you view the gay lifestyle as expressive of underlying psychological problems, the whole concept of a “cure” for sexual identity becomes much more thinkable. But non-Exodus adherents who work with gay people say that the approach produces little more than personal havoc. They suggest that when Falzarano puts a hand out to pull someone away from the gay lifestyle, it’s an open question who is the sick one in the transaction.
Barbara Warner, president of the local chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
(P-FLAG), says, “We see the damage that the ex-gay ministries and the reparative therapies do to people. We get those people into our organization after they’ve been tossed around from one side to the other, totally confused, spending years of their lives in these reparative therapies. Some people have spent 10 years of their lives trying not to be gay. It does so much damage, I can’t tell you. So to have him out here confusing people who are vulnerable anyway is unconscionable from my position. It really is.”
Warner says that P-FLAG has been “dealing with this ever since the ads came out from the religious right on joining the ex-gay ministry. And sometime last fall, some of the people that I had been using as a resource on these [issues] said, ‘You know what, Barbara? I don’t want to do this anymore. My life is my life.’
“When you think about it, most people come to the realization that they are indeed gay when they are 18, 19, and 20. The ones that come out at that age are dealing with an awful lot of internalized homophobia. If that person at age 19 and 20 goes into an ex-gay ministry, and they give up eight, 10 years of their life—and that is not an unusual number—that is so destructive. The pain this causes people is painful for all of us.”
Chris Camp, an ex-ex-gay who was actively involved in the Exodus movement for nearly a decade, can attest to the ravages of trying to re-code your sexual self. Camp says he wasted some of the best years of his life repressing his homosexuality: “Through all my involvement in all those different kinds of approaches, I was still gay. I started viewing [homosexuality] as a moral neutral, like my hair color. And my experience is shared by the majority of people I knew in the ex-gay movement.”
Though no longer ex-gay, Camp remains a Christian. He correctly points out that “Jesus never mentioned sexuality. A lot of our interpretation of the Bible is so dependent on the cultural blinders that we wear. For hundreds of years, [the Bible] was used to justify slavery. I think they’re doing the same with gays. Passages from the Bible never addressed the issue of two consensual adults living in a consensual relationship. They deal with rape and incest and issues of child abuse, but never two healthy adults.”
You may—or may not—be able to take the homosexuality out of the gay man, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to quit loving show tunes on the side. One Thursday night, a dozen men from Parents and Friends Ministries go to see Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the West End Dinner Theater in Alexandria. Falzarano and the ex-gay guys are joined by Diane, their 7-year-old son, and their 14-year-old daughter.
The production is spectacular, and the script fits neatly into Falzarano’s analysis of childhood traumas as the source of adult problems. Like homosexuals, he says, the juvenile delinquents in the musical are acting out in response to dysfunctional upbringings. When the show is over, Falzarano stands outside in the parking lot of the Fox Chase Shopping Center yukking it up with the other ex-gays gathered around his white sport-utility vehicle. Falzarano does an a cappella turn, appropriating the message as he belts out, “There…must be a place for…us.” Then he hops in his SUV and rides deeper into the suburbs.
But Falzarano, loathed by the gay community on one side, also has little room to stand on the other. The days of his ministry may be numbered, he says, because mainline churches find his work among gays distasteful.
“Think about it,” he says. “You can come into a church and say, ‘I’m a recovering addict,’ and they’ll say, ‘Praise the Lord.’ You can come into a church and say, ‘I’m an ex-prostitute,’ and they’ll say, ‘Praise the Lord.’ Come into a church and tell them that you are an ex-gay—you’ll clear the room. Let’s face it: We are the leper colony within the organized body of Christ.”
Last year, it seemed as if his time, and his issue, had arrived. A coalition of 15 conservative religious groups launched an advertising campaign in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and USA Today featuring the stories of homosexuals who said they had converted to heterosexuality as a result of their Christian faith.
The campaign both clarified and polarized the discourse over homosexuality and gay rights. In effect, conservative Christian groups had come out of the ideological closet, publicly affirming their deep-held belief: that homosexuality is a force of nurture, not nature. As evidence, they pointed to ex-gays like Falzarano. And, in doing so, they rekindled a long-smoldering debate over whether sexual orientation can or should be changed. Falzarano said that because his ministry is located in the nation’s capital, the weight of the campaign fell on his narrow shoulders and the organization he headed.
“I handled probably 25 percent of the media that came from that. We did about 60 interviews out of my office from the media. And there were probably a good 250 interviews that were done,” he remembers.
In response, P-FLAG produced a counter-campaign that mimicked the ex-gay ads. Falzarano, who cannot seem to grasp why the gay community finds his ministry so offensive, was miffed at P-FLAG’s nerve in using “the exact style of ads that we had. They were so threatened by our ads that they spread their own propaganda to manipulate Americans into believing that gays are born this way, but they have no evidence whatsoever of that. If we were born that way, then how do you explain 20,000 people who went the other way?”
As much as he likes to nail the gay community to the cross, Falzarano likes to leave some room up there for his brethren of the Christian right. He says his ministry fielded thousands of phone calls from gays and parents of gays who saw the ad campaign and “wanted help from a Christ-centered perspective.” But, he says, he was stiffed by the Christian Coalition.
“We added extra staff during that period, and I had to pay them,” he adds. “The Christian Coalition did not send us a dime. All we were asking for was possibly some money to pay for postage stamps and for the extra staff that we had to add on.”
Once the ex-gay ads petered out, charges Falzarano, so did efforts by the Christian right to help people who were trying to take a Christian route out of their sexual identity. “I know that they [the Christian right] have to ally with us because they’d be pretty much hypocrites if they fought the gay agenda and didn’t offer the way out, but they are simply not participating. They do not understand that homosexuals are victims and they should not be re-victimized.”
He sees a massive gap between himself—a Christian man who hates the sin and ministers to the sinner—and the Christian right, which seems to want nothing to do with either.
“There’s a lot of homophobia out there. They say they believe in God and God can do anything, but they don’t think God can heal the homosexual. Homosexuals need to be loved. Jesus loves the homosexual, just the way he loves any other sinner. If we, the Christian community, are going to tell homosexuals that this lifestyle is sinful, then we need to be providing ex-gay ministry.”
It’s one thing to hammer the gay groups that support homosexuality as an identity, not a pathology, but it’s quite another to go after the righteous in the fold. By late last summer, Falzarano soon found himself marginalized within his own movement. Falzarano’s diatribes against the Christian right had grown so shrill that some of his fellow ex-gays thought it was time to relieve him from the executive directorship of P-FOX. At a press conference held Sept. 1 in the National Press Building, Falzarano announced that he was there to blow the whistle on the “corporate takeover of my ministry.”
A compelling speaker, he told a dozen journalists that he’d been fired as executive director of P-FOX because he refused to kowtow to the Christian right. He went on to accuse Jerry A. Brown, president of P-FOX’s board of directors, of instigating a “palace coup.” It was Brown who had penned the Aug. 17 letter relieving Falzarano of his duties without giving any specific reasons. “We are heartbroken over this decision, but it was necessary,” Brown had written.
Falzarano quickly regrouped under a new name, Parents and Friends Ministries, and retained the organization’s offices on 12th Street. No longer affiliated with P-FOX and outside the umbrella of the broader Exodus International, Falzarano has been left to fend for his own funds and support. Falzarano had been happy to work with Brown, who had brought P-FOX $165,000 in grants through the Family Research Council, a conservative political group. But with the money had come oversight and a not-so-subtle message that everybody was going to have to sing from the same hymnbook.
Falzarano accuses Brown of “basically moving into my ministry, the ministry that I had founded, and manipulating members of the board to turn against me because I am not a ballplayer with the Christian right. I was considered an upstart, a non-team player, and not a suitable director of the ministry.”
Neither Brown nor the Maclellan Foundation—which arranged P-FOX’s funding through the Family Research Council—returned calls for comment, but it’s not hard to see why they chose to pink-slip Falzarano. When he’s not bashing gays, he’s bashing fellow Christian soldiers for not backing his ex-gay movement in any meaningful way. No one, gay or straight, is safe from his lectures. And he’s still blowing the same whistle.
As it stands now, he told the press conference, his Parents and Friends Ministries “has only nine churches in the greater Washington area supporting us, and I think that is disgraceful. Most of them are only giving us $25 to $100 a month. I’m grateful—don’t get me wrong—for the nine churches that have come to the plate. However, there should be many more churches helping homosexuals heal.”
As always, Falzarano’s hardest hits are reserved for the gay community. Gay-bashing goes with the territory when you are part of the ex-gay movement.
He complains endlessly about the promiscuity of gay life. “In the midst of AIDS,” he asks, “why are the gay bathhouses opening up again?”
Falzarano says it makes him sick to walk into a gay bookstore on O Street SE and see a gumball machine for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, one of the largest AIDS clinics in the country. “Put a quarter in and buy a gumball and support the Whitman-Walker Clinic,” he says. “Go in the back, have sex and get AIDS, and then we’ll take care of you. This is hypocritical. This grieves the Lord. This has got to stop.”
When we arrive at the bookstore, however, there is no gumball machine from Whitman-Walker. In fact, the Follies is not a bookstore at all. It’s basically a gay video and toy store where you can pay $8 and in exchange be handed two condoms and access to a back room.
It’s a bright Thursday afternoon in November when we arrive, but the store is dark as a dungeon. There’s a movie screen that shows three white studs fucking and sucking each other silly. A series of seven wooden benches is set up in front of the movie screen, and three men on benches jerk off ferociously to the stroke flick. One of the men has a deformed right hand, a claw that he is using to pleasure himself, adding a twist to a scene that’s already pretty twisted to begin with.
Past the movie screen, a dozen adult men of all ages and, it seems, all walks of life cruise for sex partners in a corridor along a series of wooden stalls. When they hook up, they duck into the stalls, which feature “glory holes,” circular holes cut between the compartments for getting and giving anonymous sex. “Can you believe this?” Falzarano foams. “This is disgusting. I guess I’ve been out of the lifestyle so long that it shocks even me.”
Shocking, sure, but what the hell are we doing here? It’s not as if Falzarano is going to catch one of these people in a teachable moment. The entire exercise seems creepy—and more than a little prurient. Falzarano, however, says we are taking the nickel tour of the gay underground because “I cannot believe that the Board of Health allows this to go on when gay men are dying of AIDS.”
It’s Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, and the first cold nip of winter bites down on the District. I have agreed to meet Falzarano early in the morning to tag along while he “infiltrates” the “Sharing Our Rainbow of Light” conference at Foundry United Methodist Church. He has reserved a space under the nom de guerre “Tony David” because he’s sure he would not gain admittance under his own name.
We meet in the morning at the Parents and Friends offices, once the home of the seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln. In his private office on the first floor, Falzarano is just finishing up a counseling session with a lesbian. His office administrator and fellow ex-gay Glenn Hatmaker mans the phones, works on the group’s newsletter, and puts the finishing touches on its Web site.
As we head out to the conference, Falzarano pauses for a moment to observe how “strategically located” his organization is, a short walk from both the male prostitutes at the Greyhound bus station and the transsexual he-shes turning tricks in Gompers Park on L Street.
As we hoof it over to Foundry, on 16th Street, Falzarano points out a nearby building where the Exodus movement held its first national conference, eight years ago. Dr. Moberly spoke, but outside a crowd of 200 anti-ex-gays held a protest with bullhorns and cardboard cutouts of giant penises.
Falzarano’s position that gays and lesbians are living out a kind of pathology tends to get a rise out of people who have worked hard to come to grips with their sexual identity. He says the Lesbian Avengers, a group of women who are known for their guerrilla engagements with homophobia, swooped into last year’s conference, slashing tires in the parking lot of the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner. The Lesbian Avengers deny slashing tires but admit infiltrating the conference to keep an eye on what they see as the homophobic enemy.
A Lesbian Avenger who was at that conference said that she couldn’t speak for her lesbian sisters because “we are a collective of individuals, non- violent activists, so one person is not allowed to make a statement on behalf of the others.” She did say, however, that they went into the conference and “grabbed some extra nametags and went in to see what was going on. We were dressed appropriately, and when they realized that we were not who we said we were, they surrounded us in a prayer circle until the police came and questioned us.”
Arriving at Foundry, Falzarano mentions that it’s “a pretty good bet we’ll get thrown out,” although we have no problem at the registration desk. A “gay-affirming” church, Foundry is a refuge for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Christians who no longer want to beg a place at the table of mainstream churches. The purpose of the conference is to help fashion a Christian theology untainted by homophobia.
Falzarano seems energized by his trip behind enemy lines. In the main conference room, he buzzes around like a bumblebee in a bouquet of flowers. We help ourselves to the literature available everywhere. Much of it points out that the weight of scientific research in recent years suggests that homosexuality has biological roots. And there is one highly publicized study suggesting that a “gay gene” or differences in brain structure may determine sexual orientation. Falzarano clucks his disapproval as we scan the various messages.
At one table, there is an information packet on “Challenging the Ex-Gay Movement.” The booklet portrays the ex-gay movement as a political cover for the Christian right’s long-running anti-gay campaign. Falzarano says the pamphlets are correct: He says he has every intention of rolling back the pro-gay political measures that he thinks are shredding America’s moral fabric. “Can you believe this?” he asks, running his index finger down a list of videotapes for sale. “Look at some of the videos they’re selling: Your Mother’s a Lesbian, Here’s Your Lunch, Have a Good Day at School. These people are indoctrinating children here. This is pathetic. This”—as he never tires of telling me—”grieves the Lord.”
The conference features a broad array of workshops on the Bible, homophobia, families, church issues, coalition-building, and spiritual healing. There is also a healthy smattering of material labeling the ex-gay movement a dangerous fraud. Many of these stories are told on a Web site, called Ex.Ex, operated by former ex-gay Douglas Upchurch.
In the sanctuary itself, a cavernous room with a dome ceiling and huge stained-glass windows, Falzarano joins a workshop on religious-based homophobia. He doesn’t contribute to the discussion, reserving his opinion for sidelong comments to me. “These people are the worst, because they are taking holy scripture and warping it,” he whispers. “Yes, we’re all called to love somebody, but we’re not called to invite him and his boyfriend to be part of an openly gay church.”
Over lunch, Falzarano spots another infiltrator, a man who says he’s a freelance writer with Focus on the Family, a Christian right group headed by presidential candidate Gary Bauer. Al Dobras says he’s here to take notes on the pro-gay lobby and to do what he can to debunk them. “They try to phrase their words and say that the Bible doesn’t say what it says,” Dobras sniffs. “The truth of the matter is that the Bible is explicit on homosexuality. It’s absolutely forbidden.”
In the afternoon, there’s a speech in the sanctuary by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, an educator and author of Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian Response. Her speech is well-received, so well that it’s interrupted a half-dozen times by the applause of the 500 gay-affirming Christians who fill every pew in the church. Mollenkott strikes a conciliatory note, stressing the importance of finding “common ground with people who may differ from us—basically the heterosexual majority.”
By the time Mollenkott finishes, Falzarano has heard enough. He appears first in line at the microphone to condemn the speaker for “living in sin” with another lesbian. Mollenkott asserts that there’s no use “throwing Bible passages at each other” and says that she would prefer not to engage Falzarano in a public forum at all.
As Falzarano slinks back to his pew, he is intercepted by a man and a woman who ask him to leave the conference immediately. For a moment, he tries to trade ideas about gender identity and religious beliefs, but nobody seems interested in theological theoreticals. The woman is up in Falzarano’s face. “You’ll have to leave,” she says, grabbing his arm.
“Get your hands off me!” he insists.
The women steps back, collects herself, then reiterates her demand that Falzarano leave immediately. Foundry may be all-inclusive, welcoming Christians of various stripes—gays, lesbians, transgenders, and ex-ex-gays—into its big Christian tent, but there is no room in the tent for Falzarano and his ex-gay zealots.
As we leave the conference, the sky is gray, and there is a distant rumbling. The gays and ex-gays have shouted at each other. They have pointed fingers. They have called disgust down upon each other’s heads. If none of this seems very Christian, then Falzarano has an answer at the ready. “You have to ask yourself what Jesus would do,” he says, completely earnest. “Jesus,” he says, “would rebuke the Pharisees and be right there with the sinners.” CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.